Looking back, it appears that it has been almost two months since my last post. Rest assured, gamers: I’m back!

Over the past six weeks or so, I’ve taken to DMing a D&D story, from scratch, with some friends of mine. It’s been an adventure, that’s for sure! Eventually, I’ll type up everything we’ve gone through and offer it as a story/quest for those who would be interested! Stay tuned for that!

What I’m going to address in the next series of posts is my time with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. With the game officially launched (and the non-disclosure agreement lifted), I can finally give my thoughts and insight on the game thus far. Think of this as a long review, and once I’ve felt the full point has been made, I will offer my overall score and summary.

Note that there WILL be some (minor) spoilers, so proceed accordingly!

Lionais Kal'feth

Lionais Kal’feth

Since launch on August 27, I’ve been glued to this game… when I can get on!

Launch day, I was able to install the game and get the day one updates. Around midnight…I was finally able to enter the world that I had chosen (i.e.: where my friends are playing) and begin adventuring. Work being the way it’s been lately, this night did not last terribly long, and I decided to test my luck on Wednesday morning. Having infinitely more luck, I immediately logged on and started my day running the tutorials and intro quests.

I begin my game as an archer, eventually looking to take on the job of Bard, and am thus dropped in the world of Gridania, a forest village being threatened by bird/lizard creatures known as Ixal. I arrive a stranger, and must register with the Adventurer’s Guild and the Archer’s Guild, both providing quests and treasure allowing advancement and growth of my character. The game systems are familiar, sure, but also welcoming and inviting. Everything version 1.0 was not.

The forest village immediately pulls me in with the lush greens intertwined with rivers and streams, dotted with buildings, and home to stone ruins. The world is utterly alive and beautiful, and through the frustration of being unable to log on, the multitude of players present makes finding questing partners a breeze. On top of it all, I’ve got the game running on the highest settings (running an EVGA 560 Ti), and even with all these moving characters on screen, it runs smooth and beautiful.

Combat is simple yet complex. A bit slow to develop, it uses the usual MMO hotbar and AoE attacks that allow you to move your character out of the way, saving you from some pretty debilitating damage. Wandering through the forest glens, I met up with a number of events called FATEs, or Full Active Time Events. These range anywhere from slaying a massive version of a fairly common monster to escorting an NPC walking through hostile territory. With the possibility of massive EXP looming large over these events, they usually draw large crowds, followed by a fairly humorous dispersal as soon as the group succeeds (or fails). This breaks up the action a bit, distracting me from blindly questing, and introduces a random, albeit lively, element to the game world.

After leveling my Archer past level 15, I began looking into the gathering and crafting skills. Wanting to eventually be able to create bows and/or instruments that will send my character into the upper echelons of awesome, I took on the roles of Botanist and Carpenter. This allowed me to slow down the game a bit, to attempt to learn a craft, and forced me to be patient, all while making the tasks and quests easy to grasp and attainable. It makes me want to make progress, sitting at a table and synthesizing dozens of useless items for a few gil just so I can hone my trade. Botany came in handy later, when I became sick of purchasing the goods I needed to create these items. Wandering into the woods, I was able to gather supplies and raw goods that I could then pound into shoes. Or a shield. Or a bow. Eventually, I see these two skills increasing my badassery while lining my pocketbook with gil.

Completing the village quests opens the game up immensely, allowing you to travel to the other two starting cities, the desert oasis Ul’dah and the pirate city Limsa Lominsa. Along with progressing the story (most of which I’ll let you discover on your own), you are introduced to dungeon raids and are allowed full exploration of a massive world (go figure).

It is here that I currently am, sitting at level 19 and pushing forward to another major boss battle. So far, A Realm Reborn feels like a sincere and heartfelt apology from one of my favorite gaming companies.

SquEnix, you have my attention. Now don’t lose it!

For all those interested, you can find me on the Goblin server under the name Lionais Kalf’eth. I’ll see you in Eorzea!

This. Yes.

This upcoming year or so has to be big for Square Enix. Final Fantasy, the flagship franchise of this powerhouse publisher, can spell out either an illustrious future, or a painful death.

After being dubbed as a game that, “greatly tarnished the Final Fantasy brand,” SquEnix has been hard at work on a revival, a rebirth of their second major MMO, Final Fantasy XIV. News dropped this week that the beta registration had hit over one million users, and I can proudly say that I was one of them.

Each beta tester was required to sign off on a non-disclosure agreement, requesting that we first share our thoughts and suggestions with the company themselves in an effort to improve upon the game before the August 27th release. So, while I cannot say much, I can say that I will definitely be grabbing my copy on day 1.

There is still room on the beta test, which is held during the weekend, starting Friday morning. If you have not already signed up to try it out, I suggest you do so!

Partner this with the news we all saw at E3, with the announcement of a new Kingdom Hearts and the rebranding of the dormant Versus XIII as a new numbered title, Final Fantasy XV, and I feel it safe to say that the future is looking pretty bright for SquEnix these days.

It is this newfound hope and excitement that fuels this post today, where I count down what I consider to be the top 5 Final Fantasy songs. Long live Nobuo Uematsu!

5. Matoya’s Theme – Final Fantasy

Quirky and fun. This theme is so unlike anything else on the first Final Fantasy soundtrack, it almost seems out of place, much like the character of Matoya the Witch. But it is exactly that which makes this track so special. After hearing this track early in the game, I knew I’d be in for an unforgettable experience, even all those years ago. Of all the recorded  versions, I’ve always enjoyed this version from the MSX release the best!

4. Clash on the Big Bridge – Final Fantasy V (and FFXII)

The battles with Gilgamesh are some of my favorite memories of the Final Fantasy games, but was almost something that many fans missed out on. Before the PS1 release of Final Fantasy V, fans couldn’t enjoy the wit and humor injected into a very underappreciated entry in the series. His return in the mines in Final Fantasy XII was a great homage, and a welcome throwback to the days of yore.

3. Terra – Final Fantasy VI

Serving as the theme for one of the more mysterious characters in the game, as well as the overworld map theme, there is a sadness this tune. A sadness that illustrates Terra’s desire to discover who and what she is and the purpose she is to serve. A sadness foreshadowing the apocalyptic destruction about to befall the beautiful planet. This is a tune that I constantly find myself humming now and again, and it brings back the memories of the best Final Fantasy game ever created.

2. One Winged Angel – Final Fantasy VII

While I do love, love, love Uematsu’s grand opus in Final Fantasy VI while we battle Kefka, nothing sums up a boss battle quite like Sephiroth’s music at the end of VII. From the urgent, percussive horns at the beginning, to the 7/8 ascending scales building massive tension, finally culminating in a choral chant, this is a battle song befitting of a man who believes himself to be a god.

1. Prelude – Every freaking FF game worth its salt.

The list would be incomplete without this masterpiece. Uematsu truly captures that essence of “fantasy” with this piece, and delivers a composition both beautiful and mysterious. A Final Fantasy game without this piece would just feel…naked.

And there you have it! These are the five tracks that I consider to be tops in the entire Final Fantasy series. I’m sure many of you will disagree, so let me know your favorites down below!

Sometimes, you just stumble into something that reminds you of the good old days.

This video is one of those things.

Each year at PAX, there’s a celebrity D&D session, and it’s amazing how effortless and fun it can be with a group of experienced players. Still nerdy…but if ANYTHING can get non-D&D players into the game, these videos can.

Witty. Humorous. And, with the new iteration of D&D Next, a great look into the rules. (I’ll provide a link below to sign up for the play testing! Totally worth it!)

It’s a couple hours long, but totally worth a viewing if you’ve got some time to kill.

Hope you enjoyed the video! Click on the link below to check out the new D&D play testing!

https://www.wizards.com/dnd/dndnext.aspx

Has Microsoft won back gamers?

Some interesting news out of the Microsoft camp this week!

This time, you’ll hear about it in podcast form! Enjoy, everyone!

https://soundcloud.com/douglas-kwiecinski/redemption-of-microsoft

(Note: Slight misspeak at around 2:24. “Release their consoles games on this system.”)

Not true…but hilarious!

Safe to say that Microsoft has not made things very easy on themselves since they announced the XBox One. The online check-ins, region locking, and used game fiascoes are quite the headache to deal with.

Fumbling through the internet, I came across this hilarious article from, what is in essence, ‘The Onion’ of video game news. Thought it would be worth a share! (All credit due to Play4Real – p4rgaming.com)

http://www.p4rgaming.com/microsoft-confirms-xbox-one-will-only-work-in-21-states-in-the-us-at-launch/

What a week. What a week it has been, ladies and gentleman. Just like that, E3 2013 is over. You better be ready for some next-gen gaming, cuz it’s here!

We certainly had our pick of headlines this year: Starting with a barrage of games from Microsoft, following with a Sony counter punch, and in the end, a few surprises from Nintendo. Stellar press conferences from EA and Ubisoft added even more depth to the show, and definitely left this gamer lost somewhere in gaming euphoria. All in all, this adds up to one of the best E3’s in recent memory.

So what should we make of it all? With our hard-earned money at stake, which games deserve our money? Look no further, as we are about to dive into my…

Top 5 Games of E3 2013

First…an honorable mention…

Thief is back, and appears to be taking a page out of Dishonored‘s book. Using the ability to sneak and hide in the shadows, you are tasked with reclaiming various artifacts, by any means necessary. Of course, being foundationally a stealth game, the best idea is to remain unseen, but anti-hero Garrett has a few tricks up his sleeve in case things start to get a little hairy. The visuals definitely pop in this game, and I suggest you keep an eye on this one, especially if you’re a fan of the stealth genre.

Look for Thief on the shelves sometime in 2014.

5. The Division

Based in a Tom Clancy universe, The Division paints a grim picture of a dystopian future brought on after some biological threat leaves behind an empty, ransacked New York City. This tactical, massively online third-person shooter relies on the use of multi-player and persistent communication. You control one of a group of soldiers given the task to save what they can within the devastation.

The story setup, a disease spread during the chaos of Black Friday holiday shopping, gives us a very real, somewhat unsettling look into a plausible future scenario. This New York City winter is lonely and desolate, leaving a feeling a despair, struggle, and survival. Battling against other rogue bands shows us what we can become with our backs against the wall, facing desperate times.

New gameplay innovations are key, including the use of tablets by players to aid their comrades in battle, such as seeing a bird’s-eye view of a firefight and pinpointing the locations of enemy combatants. Looks like Ubisoft has their hands on a sleeper hit. Watch for this title to hit (again) sometime in 2014.

4. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

What can I say about this title that hasn’t already been said? I’m stoked. Already a huge fan of the series, The Phantom Pain looks like another winner. Changing up form the more linear-style games of Metal Gear past, we are being presented with a massive open world to play around in. And what a world it is. Vehicles, horses, realistic passage of time and real-time weather effects bring both that sense of hyper-realism, and the “do-what-you-want” attitude that makes open world games so fun and immersive.

We’ll be taking control of Big Boss, again, nearing the moment when he’ll turn from freedom fighter to super villain. Already present is his bionic arm, so we know we’ll be learning about the origin of that little piece of hardware (also an allusion to the idea of “phantom pain,” no doubt). Stealth, espionage, and advanced tactics are sure to reign supreme in this next Kojima production.

There is no solid date on this title yet…but let’s just hope it’s 2014!

3. Infamous: Second Son

The only console exclusive title to make this list. But trust me, it’s for good reason. Sucker Punch seems to be upping the ante with this next release in their already stellar franchise. Following the results of Infamous 2, this story is set seven years later in (real-life city, this time) Seattle, WA. You take on the role of Delsin Rowe, who is immediately infinitely more interesting than Cole was. While I enjoyed Cole and the PS3 Infamous games, the self loathing began to get a bit tiresome after a while, and it was hard to really want to care about Cole. Delsin has powers. He knows it. He loves it. He embraces it. Immediately, this opens up avenues for family conflict (as seen in the trailer), social conflict (kind of a given), and more meaningful self-conflict.

The tech within the PS4 will allow for some beautiful (and beautifully destructible) environments that simply could not be done on the PS3. Seattle looks wonderful and the effects of Delsin’s powers light the game’s world on fire (heh). We’ll be seeing this title launch February 2014.

2. Watch_Dogs

This! This is the reason I’m diving head first into the next generation. From the masterminds at Ubisoft, we follow take control of protagonist Aiden Pearce in an alternate-reality Chicago. In a city where everything is connected and everyone is watching, Aiden is a master hacker who can manipulate the grid around him to gather information, locate people/objectives, cause blackouts, or do a bit of spying himself. A new, modern take on stealth and espionage feels fresh, exciting, and dangerous.

Similar to The DivisionWatch_Dogs offers additional content and outside help from players on a tablet. As the trailer shows, a friend playing on a tablet can assist by disabling aircrafts, causing blackouts, and initializing gates and roadblocks. What I would be curious about is if someone would be able to hack into your game to sabotage you. Always looking to cause some trouble, that would being some additional challenge, frustration, and fun (depending on which end of the spectrum you’re on)! This game drops on Nov 19 for current consoles, and will be a release title for whenever the hell the new ones come out. (PS4 = RESERVED!)

Even though this is the title that will bring me into next gen, I’m not ready to call it “Best in Show.” For my number one game, I’ll have to wait a little longer…but I’m sure it will be worth it.

1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

How beautiful is that?

What drew me in to The Witcher in the first place was the lush, gorgeous visuals. Polish producer CD Projekt Red has just upped the ante with the third installment in the sage of Geralt. Based on a series of books, “witchers” are beast hunters who can call upon the supernatural for power and protection. While specific details are scarce, there are a few notables. This will be the conclusion of Geralt’s story, but according to interviews, we need not have played the previous two games to understand what is taking place. The game world is said to be over 30 times the size of The Witcher 2, already a sizable game in it’s own right. Much like the previous two games, actions will have consequences, some major, others not so much, but it all depends on the actions you take.

Let’s face it, the game is downright beautiful. When I imagine the size, scope, and design of “next-gen consoles,” this is exactly what I’m picturing. The engine used in game will allow for massive environments without load times, allowing free and unhindered exploration of your surroundings. One single island is said to be larger than the entirety of the second game, a concept that blows my mind, but when you watch the trailer and see the snow-capped mountains from your boat, you get a true sense of just what that entails.

This game will be the RPG by which all other RPGs will be measured against. Knowing only that the intended release date is 2014, let’s hope that it’s not too far off.

This just about covers E3. Let’s get geared up for Some PS4 and XBox One action!

What were some of your favorite games/announcements from this year’s E3? Sound off below!

We’re getting software! …eventually.

With much of the focus from yesterday’s post on the battles between Microsoft and Sony, today will focus mostly on the Nintendo Direct that was released prior to the start of E3 Day 2.

Choosing to forego a major press conference, Nintendo has put their eggs in the basket of online news releases. Whether or not this works in their favor remains to be seen, but they did put together a rather impressive presentation. Stellar? No. But definitely impressive.

We were first given a gameplay glimpse at the newest set of Pokémon releases, X and Y. Getting a bit difficult to come up with some differentiating names, I suppose. Regardless, we were shown a couple of the changes for this pair of games, including the new region, Kalos, and a new type of Pokémon, fairy, particularly effective against dragon-type Pokémon. Nintendo used that reveal to assure us (quite a few times) that this would add a great deal extra strategy to your gaming experience.

Also revealed was a new feature, Pokémon-Ami. What to say about this… think Pokémon meets Tomagochi. In essence, you are able to pet, care for, and amuse your Pokémon to increase their affection toward you, and presumably, their effectiveness in battle. I’ve always enjoyed the series, as a general rule, but one has to wonder how long Nintendo will be able to ride on this without some sort of significant change or update. Maybe coddling your virtual pets is significant enough…but I’m not so sure. Either way, we will be able to purchase these releases on October 12 of this year.

Next, we caught our first glimpse of the next major Mario game. Taking a break from the Galaxy series, we got a trailer for Super Mario 3D World. Before getting into impressions, I’ll let you watch the trailer.

Generally, I like it. It’s a fresh-but-retro addition to the Mario franchise, and I enjoy the nod to Super Mario Bros. 2, a game I found grossly under appreciated.

As for the cat suit…I laughed. But it’s charming! The franchise has always had silly and quirky new ways to progress through levels, and the cat suit looks to be a fun way to change-up levels, adding some depth and variety. I’m also a fan of the semi-competitive nature of the game…though I’m sure anyone that plays with me will grow to hate it. Semi-competitive, in my language, means, “GET OUT OF MY WAY! Those coins are mine!!!” Nintendo gave us a release window of December of this year, jut in time for the holidays.

Following that, Nintendo shows a glimpse of the next Mario Kart game. This is where I can get in to racing games. Cartoony, kart-style racing has always held more water for me than hyper-realistic racing sims. (I just don’t like driving that much!)

New to Mario Kart 8 is the ability to utilize anti-gravity to drive along walls and upside-down. A very cool, if not slightly disorienting, looking feature., Not having a hands-on, it’s difficult to describe how the mechanic looks and feels, but Nintendo announced that certain participating Best Buy locations will have a tester for the game, so, much like I will be doing this week, I encourage you all to go out and try it!

Returning from previous iterations of Mario Kart are motorcycles, hang-gliding off jumps, and some underwater tracks. Sadly, we won’t be seeing this title before the end of the year, and were given a release window of Spring 2014.

A couple delays to Wii Party U and Wii Fit U put a damper on things, but it appears that both titles will still be released before Holiday this year.

We were treated to a slew of new release information next, with Art Academy leading the way, a modern version of Mario Paint with just the paint. Using your Wii U tablet, you can create works of art and share them on the MiiVerse. As a computer artist myself, I can really appreciate what Nintendo is doing with this software. An exclusive demo for MiiVerse artists is set to release this Summer, with no solid date on the full software.

Nintendo then took the time to reveal a number of third-party releases and E-Shop games launching this year, including Assassin’s Creed: Black FlagDeus Ex: Human RevolutionWatch DogsScribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics AdventureDuck Tails Remastered, and Shovel Knight. A fairly strong release lineup, and for Nintendo, hopefully a way to start selling more systems.

The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker HD was showcased next, and it’s looking mighty fine. Updated art with a better draw distance, enhancements for the Wii U, and “new, subtle changes” are being hyped for this project. I, for one, greatly enjoyed Windwaker. IT was a departure for the franchise, but one that I found charming while maintaining that deep Zelda feel. This updated classic will be dropping in October! Mark it on the calendar!

An interesting trailer for The Wonderful 101 was shown next. Reminding me a bit of Pikmin, you’re tasked with leading a group of survivors against an attacking alien threat. Using the Wii U tablet, you can draw out new shapes and forms to dictate what type of weapon these survivors will be in their battle against annihilation. Supporting up to five people cooperatively, keep an eye on this one, and look for it to hit stores on September 15th.

Bringing back another classic franchise, we were treated to a glimpse of Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze. Donkey, Diddy, and Dixie team up to take down a band of Viking walruses, rats, and owls in a gorgeous new entry to a franchise that started almost 20 years ago. New advancements in camera angles allow for a deeper challenge and what’s sure to be a great Wii U experience. DKC looks to launch in November of this year.

Bayonetta 2 was shown next, with an updated look on our heroine and some grandiose battles in the style of Devil May Cry. Sega has a smooth, stylized action title pegged for us here, exclusive to the Wii U. For a release, all we know is 2014.

The creators of Xenoblade showed off a new open-world title named X. Controlling both a human and a mech (called a “doll”), we’re being promised a massive free-roaming space to explore with what appears to be a gorgeous-looking RPG. Launching in 2014, fans of the Xeno series are going to want to keep an eye on this one.

What Nintendo closed their video conference with may have just guaranteed them a massive number of new Wii U purchases, especially from nostalgia-loving gamers like myself. Again…let’s go to the video.

The moment I’ve been clamoring for for YEARS! Mega Man finally joins the battle in the next Super Smash Brothers. Launching for Wii U and 3DS in 2014, I may not be able to put off buying that little white box anymore. Also joining the fray will be a Villager from Animal Crossing, in what I’m hoping will be the biggest and best addition to this franchise since SSB Melee. Party at my place!

In the end, Nintendo had a good video conference. There are a number of Wii U third-party titles ready to launch by the end of the year, but also many that won’t make it before this Holiday season. Wind Waker, Donkey Kong Country, and Super Mario 3D World are great titles, and Nintendo has to hope it will be enough to push a struggling console.

Nintendo was just a small part of Day 2. Keep following for more insight, info, and videos.

Be sure to subscribe, and see you next post!